Asian Music and Dance

Choreographic Collision

Elena Jacinta divides her time between her native Latvia and the UK where she is not only a trained bharatanatyam dancer (she trained with some of the great in Riga, New Delhi and London), she is a successful performing artist (her most recent credits include Sadhana Dance Company’s Elixir), teacher (she has led dance intensives in both her dance homes) and choreographer (her short solo piece, Mirror Me, proved a success at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival).

Being one of the eleven choreographers (or to be more precise – one of the three non-Italian choreographers) selected through an application process to take part in Choreographic Collision, I arrived in bustling Venice right in the peak of its high season, unprepared for what was awaiting me. The programme of the course was as busy as the city itself: our days were packed with activities ranging from practical workshops, conferences, lectures, class observation to dress rehearsals and of course performances of Dance Biennale. Seeing the works of such outstanding artists as Virgilio Sieni (Italy), Shobana Jeyasingh (UK), William Forsythe (Germany), Erna Omarsdottir (Iceland) and Wim Vandekeybus (Belgium) to name but a few and hearing them talk about their choreographic process was a real treat. 

 Our practical workshops were led by the four choreographers, each one with a very different personality and approach to movement and dance-making. In those two to three days that we spent with each one of them, we could have a glimpse into a separate world created by these artists’ charisma and vision: a world of body-conscious subtlety of Virgilio Sieni; raw and explosive spontaneity of Ismael Ivo; rhythm-driven ritualistic energy of Koffi Kôkô; and complexity and precision of Shobana Jeyasingh. 

Ismael Ivo (the artistic director of Choreographic Collision and the director of Dance Biennale) and Shobana Jeyasingh were the two artists who were supposed to devise a short choreography on us to be presented at an open sharing. While Ivo’s focus was purely on improvisation that pushed our physical limits and encouraged the letting-go of the known and familiar in order to surprise ourselves and the audience, Jeyasingh’s attention was drawn to phrasing and composition using bharatanatyam vocabulary as a starting point. 

It was fascinating to see how the movement sequences created by us have been moulded and reshaped to acquire a very distinct aesthetic that Jeyasingh developed over the two and a half decades of making dance, something that can be easily recognised by those familiar with her work. Bharatanatyam postures and hand gestures, sharpness and urgency of movement, lifts and elements of contact have been weaved into phrases that she layered and transformed into short duets, trios and group formations.  

Working with both choreographers demanded a high degree of concentration, be it mental or physical. A similar amount of concentration and commitment, however, was required for the entire course.

 Looking back at the time we spent in Venice, the whole experience now seems unreal: our daily boat-commuting, dancing in the historical buildings right in the heart of the stunningly beautiful city and meeting some of the most brilliant choreographers of today – all of this seems to belong to another world.  

In these few weeks I often felt challenged, inspired, frustrated, excited, overwhelmed – sometimes all of it at the same time. Bizarrely, even the tornado that swept through Venice on the very first week of our stay, and which we could observe from the outside of our dance studio, fitted perfectly into the whole mood of this collision of ideas, opinions and cultures that we had to face every day.  For often it is a problem or a conflict that leads to creativity.



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